Oakland taps Long Beach chief to head police department
By Kelly Rayburn, The Chauncey Bailey Project
OAKLAND — Mayor Ron Dellums announced Wednesday that Long Beach police Chief Anthony Batts will be Oakland’s next top cop.
He will begin his tenure in September.
“Chief Batts is an extraordinarily capable police chief whose professional expertise, outstanding leadership skills and brilliant operational savvy make him the right choice for Oakland,” Dellums said in a statement.
Batts, 49, has served more than 25 years on the Long Beach force, becoming chief in October 2002. During his time atop the department, Long Beach’s crime rate dropped to its lowest level since 1975 and officer-involved shootings fell by 70 percent, the mayor’s office said. In moving to Oakland, Batts will lead a department in a city with many similarities to Long Beach.
Both cities have a major port. Oakland’s population was 404,155 in 2008, according to census data; Long Beach’s was 463,789. They are two of the most diverse cities in the nation.
But Oakland’s crime rate — despite a 13 percent drop in serious crimes so far this year — is considerably higher than Long Beach’s. On top of that, Oakland police remain under the watch of a federal judge and the department could face additional budget challenges in the months ahead.
Batts is well-regarded as a leader in community policing practices, and he holds a doctorate in public administration. An attempt to reach him by telephone was not successful.
In a statement, he said, “Safety, service and hope are the building blocks we provide to a community rich in diversity, opportunity and promise. Our job is to turn citizen concerns into our service imperatives.”
Batts’ appointment comes 51/2 months after former Chief Wayne Tucker’s resignation Feb. 28.
Tucker was facing a vote of no-confidence from the City Council when he decided to step down, charging that the council paid only “lip service” to public safety in Oakland.
At the time, the department had been hit by a number of scandals from its much-criticized investigation of the 2007 killing of journalist Chauncey Bailey to allegations officers falsified affidavits for search warrants.
Tucker’s departure prompted the usual debate about whether an insider or an outsider would be a better fit for the job.
A number of people with ties to the department — including Acting Police Chief Howard Jordan; East Palo Alto police Chief Ron Davis, a former Oakland police captain; Vallejo Chief Bob Nichelini, a former Oakland deputy chief; and James “Chips” Stewart, a former Oakland captain now working at a Virginia-based consulting firm whose specialties include public safety — applied for the job.
Batts’ name had surfaced recently as a top candidate, but Dellums’ office and City Administrator Dan Lindheim kept mum until Wednesday about which candidates were in the running.
For his part, Jordan called the chance to serve as acting chief “an incredible experience” and said he looked forward to working with Batts.
“Chief Batts has a lot of positive experience in law enforcement, and I hope to learn from him,” Jordan said. “I am confident that the men and women of the Oakland Police Department will continue to work hard to make Oakland a safe community.”
Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) had pushed for an outside candidate, saying it was important for the new chief to “look at the whole department with absolutely no biases.”
“He not only has to be a good policeman, he has to be a good manager and administrator,” De La Fuente said. “You have to manage resources and maximize resources, and I think that’s what this guy brings to the table.”
Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland), head of the council’s public safety committee, said that though he does not know Batts personally, he has heard he has an outstanding reputation. Reid had hoped Jordan would get the job, particularly after Jordan led the department through its darkest period after the killings of four police officers March 21 by a wanted parolee.
Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, though joining Reid in saying he looked forward to working with the new chief, also said he had hoped for an insider such as Jordan.
“I believe Chief Jordan has been a very good leader and is a very good leader,” Arotzarena said. “I know (Batts) has some good credits, but he hasn’t gone through what Chief Jordan has gone through.”
Information about what Batts will be paid was not available Wednesday. That’s in part because if Batts is going to receive a contract to serve as chief, it will have to be awarded by the City Council, which is not scheduled to meet again until September.
In Long Beach, Batts long has been viewed as a homegrown success. He joined the force in 1982 as a patrol officer.
Crime declined when he was chief and, early this year, Batts proudly announced that 2008 was the fifth straight year crime had dropped in Long Beach.
The Long Beach department has not been without its controversies, however. In February, a unanimous jury awarded a total of $4.1 million to a Long Beach police sergeant and two officers who said that during Batts’ tenure they were retaliated against after reporting that other Long Beach officers were going on illegal lobster dives while on duty. The imbroglio was dubbed “Lobstergate.”
Jim Chanin, one of the attorneys who sued Oakland over the Police Department’s Riders misconduct scandal, which led to the federal court oversight, said he was glad the city went outside the department.
“If ever there was a time when fresh blood was needed, it’s now,” he said. “Whether he is the right person, I am hopeful that he is. I’m going to give him a fair chance. I agree that he has to be committed to reform. It can’t just be another step on the career path, and if he has that commitment, I’ll look forward to working with him.”
Dellums and Batts are scheduled to meet with reporters in Oakland on Monday.
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435. Staff writers Kristin Bender, Cecily Burt, Harry Harris, Thomas Peele and the Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Tracy Manzer contributed to this story.